Mr. Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent—Essex, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the Speech from the Throne. The speech was an excellent reflection on the accomplishments of the government in the past year and a visionary glimpse of the strong future set before us.
In the fall of 2008 the world was rocked by an economic crisis that began in the United States with a meltdown in the housing industry. The whole world looked on with nervous apprehension as banking systems throughout the world were shocked by one financial quake after another.
Canada was not immune to the crisis and suffered in its markets, especially in employment numbers. Our government was called on to act, and we did decisively with the economic action plan that followed on job retention and creation and measured financial stimulus to shore up our banking and lending institutions. Today Canada is recognized as having one of the most secure banking systems. In fact, the World Economic Forum has said that the Canadian banking system is the strongest in the world.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell the House the effects the economic stimulus plan has had on my riding of Chatham-Kent--Essex.
Last year we announced a combined amount from the federal and provincial governments of $50.5 million in Chatham-Kent and $17.2 million in Leamington. The projects included roads, bridges, municipal buildings, sewers and water treatment facilities which created economic activity in my riding, particularly jobs, directly and indirectly as a result. This was exactly the plan our government set out in last year's budget and continues on in this year's plan as explained in the Speech from the Throne.
The Speech from the Throne addresses new training for laid-off workers. Layoffs are something I am afraid we have experienced in my riding. I would like to make a few comments about this.
A large number of people in my riding of Chatham-Kent--Essex work directly or indirectly in the auto industry. In 2009 we watched as the three major North American auto manufacturers fought bankruptcies, another casualty of the 2008 economic meltdown. It was our government, combined with the Ontario government, that came to their aid and lent General Motors $8.5 billion and Chrysler $3.75 billion. Although both companies are now recovering, many jobs were lost and many of these jobs will not come back.
The future in the auto industry has changed and we must change with it. That is why I was so glad to see our government introduce new training for laid-off workers, training for a new 21st century workforce. That is why we in Chatham-Kent--Essex were so excited about the announcement I was privileged to make at St. Clair College in Chatham for $7.7 million last year to provide the infrastructure for job training.
This leads one to ask about the government's responsibility to eventually balance the books.
I am glad that during the times of economic growth our government saw the necessity to pay down the national debt to the tune of $39 billion. In fact, before the 2008 crisis our debt to GDP ratio was approximately 27%, the lowest in decades. Today this stands at approximately 35%, still far lower than all other G8 members. As a result of our prudent fiscal management, we will continue to grow our economy and restore our fiscal balance by 2015.
We will begin immediately to lower expenditures in our own House. The Speech from the Throne stated that MPs' salaries would be frozen and members on both sides of the House were asked to freeze their budgets. I have met with my staff and we are implementing a strategy to do just that.
The Speech from the Throne talked about building jobs and industries for the future. That is why I support the vision of this government in job training to support skills development, apprenticeships and training for Canadian workers. That is why I support this government's plan to fuel the efforts of our best and brightest and bring innovative projects to the market. That is why I support the laws that protect intellectual property and copyright.
The speech also talked about continued reduction in taxes for businesses which will make Canada a place where companies want to set up shop and which will create jobs, not like the NDP plan and the Liberal plan to increase taxes. We often hear the NDP talk about taxing those in our economy who are the most profitable. I suppose the NDP thinks, as Ronald Reagan once said, and I paraphrase, that if it is profitable, tax it until it is no longer profitable and until it needs help, and then we can subsidize it.
I am thankful for the banking sector and an oil industry that are profitable. I am glad that we have a strong service sector that profits from our government commitment to free trade agreements. I am excited about a resource sector that is a world leader.
I am glad that the Speech from the Throne mentioned our government's continued commitment to free trade agreements. These result in jobs and opportunities for us, and those at the other end of the agreement as well.
The Speech from the Throne also mentioned our government's commitment to the forestry sector, fisheries management, supply management in our agricultural industry, as well as small and medium size businesses. It also mentioned our plans to grow our nation's shipbuilding industry. This has a significant interest in my riding of Chatham-Kent—Essex.
The town of Wheatley in my riding has the largest freshwater fishing port in the world. In that harbour there is a shipbuilder, Hike Metal. For years the people at Hike Metal have been building boats, both large and small, from ferries to research vessels, firefighting ships and police vessels. I am glad to hear, as is Andy Stanton, the owner of Hike Metal, that our government will support the industry through a long-term approach to federal procurement.
The Speech from the Throne also mentioned our government's commitment to family. I suppose as a father of 8 and a grandfather of 20, this strikes home for my wife and me. We see firsthand the struggles that young families endure and the necessity to support them as they raise their children.
I am glad that we will strengthen the universal child care benefit of $100 per month to also assist sole-support and single-parent families. Every week when I go home to my riding, I get to experience firsthand the business of family life when the grandchildren come over to visit on Sunday mornings. It gives me a renewed incentive to get back to Ottawa every Sunday afternoon.
The past few months have witnessed two horrible earthquakes that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives in Chile and more than 200,000 lives in Haiti. Canadians' hearts went out to the devastated victims and they offered generously in terms of money and aid.
Our military was there to help in reconstruction, which again demonstrated to all of us here at home what an excellent organization our armed forces is. We are so proud of the men and women in our military, their professionalism and bravery in relief efforts and in places like Afghanistan. Our government has been committed to providing them with the necessary tools.
I was so pleased to hear in the Speech from the Throne that we will continue to honour these brave men and women by correcting unfair rules that restricted benefits to military families in the past.
We will also initiate a program involving private citizens, businesses and groups to build community war memorials. The throne speech also made a commitment to establish a new veterans charter and an ombudsman to look after our valiant veterans who have served us in the past.
The Speech from the Throne touched on many more areas, but unfortunately I cannot comment on them all. I have tried to elaborate on a few that have a special significance in my riding, but it is impossible to address them all.
One last thing I would like to talk about is the Speech from the Throne's important reference to our shared history. The Speech from the Throne mentioned the upcoming celebration of the War of 1812. This has significant importance to my riding of Chatham-Kent—Essex, for it was on the banks of the Thames River where the battle was fought between the British and the Americans, and the brave Indian chief Tecumseh died. The people of Chatham-Kent—Essex are proud of our history and would like to invite everyone to celebrate this important event in our riding.
This is a great country with a great history, and as was so well expressed in the Speech from the Throne, it is a country with a great future. Let us build it together.
Mr. John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, before I get into my personal remarks, I would point out that in questions and comments our time is very limited. Because our men and women in uniform play such an important role in making this country what it is today, not just within our borders but outside of them, I want to go a step further.
I am glad the hon. member spoke about our military. I asked him a specific question to obtain a specific answer but all he responded was that the government had appointed an ombudsman. That was part of the recommendation. What does an ombudsman do? He takes complaints.
I want to inform members that I chaired that committee and I saw parents and men and women come before committee in tears, reaching out, asking for help. They did not want an ombudsman. Yes, that helps but what they wanted was access to service, which takes funds. That is again where the government has failed our men and women in uniform. It has not provided funds.
As I open my participation today in this debate, I want to congratulate our Paralympic athletes who did us very proud. The Paralympic Games just closed. I believe Canada is sending a signal that we are here not just to stay but to grow.
In referring to our athletes as a whole, Paralympic and others, in the throne speech of April 4, 2006, the government, which had just been elected at that time, was kind enough to acknowledge the Liberal government's investment in the Own the Podium program. I thanked it for that. It is covered on page 3 of its first throne speech.
The other day the chief executive officer, Mr. Jackson, of the Own the Podium program was on television and acknowledged that without the funding for this program that was initially put in and continues to be put in, our athletes would not have been able to compete at the level they did which has allowed us to celebrate with them.
Dick Pound, who we all know has been associated with our Olympic initiatives most of his life, has also commented positively that this program has done well for us and it must continue. I read the other day in The StarPhoenix how Britain will now copy our Own the Podium program. I congratulate Britain. At least Canada is setting another example. We are very proud of our athletes.
Because the Prime Minister and the government, it seems, have been underestimating the intelligence and memory of Canadians, I will, in the 15 or 20 minutes I have, talk about how in the Speech from the Throne, which coincides with the budget speech, the government has misrepresented, or there are discrepancies, within the figures. The numbers just do not add up.
I will also point out how the government says one thing and does the opposite. For example, in the throne speech and in the budget it says how it will lower taxes. I will use the most recent example that occurred in this honourable chamber on Friday when my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour talked about how students who are doing their doctorates have been taxed. People can read it in Hansard. Students were not paying taxes a year ago and this year they will be. In the throne speech the government says that it will be lowering taxes, but on the other hand, students are now paying more taxes.
I will show how the government has financially damaged our seniors. This goes back to the promise that was made in the 2006 election when the then leader of the opposition, today's Prime Minister, put in writing how the Conservatives would not touch income trusts, how they scared Canadians and how they scared seniors by saying that the Liberals would damage the future and destroy pensions. However, what was one of the first things the Conservatives did? They put a 31.5% tax increase on income trusts. Shame, indeed.
Not only that, the Conservatives have weakened the ability of Canadian companies to compete on an equal footing internationally by not allowing them the interest deductibility that all other nations have. I will point out how they have done literally nothing in health care and how they have mismanaged the economy. I am surprised when they are described as good money managers because a good money manager is not one who inherits a surplus like they did in 2006 of $13.2 billion and then, a short three years later, we find ourselves in a deficit of almost $56 billion, although we do not know the exact the figure. However, if we add $56 billion and $13-something billion, we have had a turnaround of almost $70 billion in a short three and a half years. That is mind-boggling.
When the hon. member of the new Conservative Party spoke earlier, he said that we have a solid banking system and that financial institutions have carried us through this recession. He is absolutely correct, and that is thanks to Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.
I remember when I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Industry waking up to the news that the banks had decided they would amalgamate. What did the Government of Canada do? The Liberal government did the right thing and the responsible thing and told the banks they could not do that because we realized that would have put our financial institutions in a very vulnerable position. Who criticized that policy at the time? It was the current Prime Minister who said that we should stay out of their noses and leave them alone. He said that we did not want regulations.
Today, however, when the Minister of Finance, after he did a number on Ontario in the Harris government, and the Prime Minister go out to international forums they say that we have the best banking system in Canada because of what they have done. If truth be told, we know factually who made those moves and it was the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.
I will talk about how the government's policies are causing us to lose jobs, not just today but jobs of the future, and how our companies, as I said earlier, are vulnerable. I will point out that it was the then Liberal government that made sure we made the right investments, not just for the jobs of today that we needed then in terms of addressing the concerns of employers with EI for example, but also the concerns of the jobs of the future and the right investments that we made between those difficult years.
The Prime Minister today has caused, I believe, and I have heard from many other people, Canadians to be concerned. It boils down to a matter of credibility which brings about trust. Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister shut down Parliament because he said that a coalition was organizing, et cetera, and it was not elected. We all are elected democratically and we make up Parliament. This is not a presidential system like it is in the United States. This is a totally different system, a much better system, if I may say.
However, what did the Prime Minister do? We know what happened the first time around. He went to the Governor General, put a bit of pressure on her and she made the decision to grant prorogation. Forget the word “prorogation”, he shut down government, period.
We know what happened after that. Instead of coming in to the House and presenting a stimulus package of how the Conservatives were going to help get Canadians back to work, all the Prime Minister really said to the opposition was that he would take away the tools for us to run a party. That got everybody else upset, and we know the history.
Not too long ago, the Prime Minister, with just one phone call, shut down government. That is pretty scary when the first minister of the land can pick up the phone and say that he wants to shut down government.
However, I am also concerned because I think the Governor General should never have said okay. She should have thought about it and looked into it. I do find some fault with respect to the Governor General. She should not just simply grant it, especially something that happened within less than 12 months.
I would like say why this is a concern. I will quote a gentleman who said:
|| Well, I don't know that there's much strategy behind it. I think his problem is that the government's talking points really don't have much credibility. Everybody knows that Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry, and the trouble is that the government doesn't want to explain why that was necessary.
That is a direct quote from a gentleman by the name of Tom Flanagan. He was the Prime Minister's campaign manager, the Prime Minister's main strategist. He, too, is now questioning the Prime Minister's credibility.
I would like to read some other quotes, only because some people have asked why the Prime Minister should not do this. The reason why he should not do it is he has a tendency, as I said about the income trust, to say one thing and do the other.
On April 18, 2005, the Prime Minister said to the Canadian Press, “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent...is when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern”. In essence he today has lost the moral authority to govern, and that is what he should carry out right now.
The Prime Minister also said the following, in the Hansard of October 20, 2003:
|| Now is it true that the government will prorogue the House so that it will not be held accountable for its shameful record?
Obviously the Prime Minister prorogued because he did not want to be held accountable for his shameful record.
Mr. Michael Savage: It's a flip-flop.
Mr. John Cannis: It's a big flip-flop.
On January 5, the Prime Minister said on CBC The National:
|| The decision to prorogue, when the government has the confidence of the House, is a routine constitutional matter.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: Hear, hear.
Mr. John Cannis: The justice minister said “hear, hear”. He is a good friend of mine. I agree on a lot of things he is doing. I support the justice minister with respect to some of his legislation, and he knows that. However, on some of these issues, we do not see eye to eye. The Prime Minister cannot sing and dance at the same time, or maybe he can.
Nevertheless, it is a question of a lack credibility on behalf of the Prime Minister and his government, which causes Canadians, and us as well, not to trust him and the government. The Prime Minister seems to do things according to his agenda.
I could go on and on and talk about how and what the Prime Minister said a year ago, or back in 2004 when he sent a letter to the then Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, in co-operation with the other two leaders of the opposition, the leader of the Bloc Québécois and the leader of the NDP. That was okay then, when he asked the Governor General to do what in essence was being asked in 2010, but today it is not.
I read the concern of one of my constituents into the record the other day, Mr. Frandsen, and I will repeat it today. He said:
|| If the Prime Minister can behave and do what he is doing while having a minority government, can you imagine what he will do if he had a majority government?
That is scary.
I want to go on and talk about some of the issues. In the throne speech, he talked about health. Every election, every year that I have been here since 1993, the most important and number one issue has been health care, and we see this debate unfold in the United States. Finally, it has decided to allow the insurance companies to sell more policies. It is all about insurance policies. Not in Canada.
The number one issue by the government has been looked at with closed eyes. It has done nothing for health care. In fact, when the former health minister of Ontario moved to federal politics, he was appointed health minister. He is today's industry minister. When he was asked a question in this hon. House a couple of years ago about what he would do about health care, his answer was that the government would continue the funding. What was he referring to? It was the funding agreement that was signed by the Martin government after the recommendations of the Romanow report. Mr. Romanow went on television with Peter Mansbridge and said that the Liberals not only met the report's expectations, they exceeded them. I believe it was $58 billion over 10 years. The provinces want to start talking about this now because it ends in 2014.
The government and the Prime Minister are avoiding everything. They unfortunately have done nothing, zero on health care. That is a shame because if we do not have a healthy country, we do not have a healthy tomorrow.
One thing I am pleased to inform the House of, and I was made aware of this the other day when somebody gave me the clipping, was that Sarah Palin, the new neo-con of the United States, confirmed that she and her family received health care in Canada. Sarah Palin, of all people. This tells us that we do indeed have a good system, if anything a much better system than what the United States has.
On health care, which is a very important issue, the government has been silent. Why? I want to read a quote by an individual. This gentleman was asked, on CBC TV, about what he thought of a private, parallel health system in Canada. The response was,“Well I think it would be a good idea”. Who said that? The Prime Minister.
Another senior minister in his cabinet, the current Minister of Immigration, said to the Calgary Herald, “I do support the idea of private health care”.
The Conservatives have a minority government. We know Preston Manning and Mike Harris have had forums on private health care. God help this country. God help us all if ever they get a majority government. That is what they think of health care.
The Conservatives talk about income trusts. Aside from the damage they did to the seniors who planned for their golden days and today have to adjust downwards, they also weakened Canadian industries. They said in their budget that they would make it easier for foreign governments to invest. The difference now is that with their policy, Canadian companies can no longer, like foreign companies, use the interest deductibility factor when investing. In other words, foreign companies can borrow money, come and buy Canadian companies and write off the interest. Canadian companies that used to be able to do it can no longer do it. That puts us at a disadvantage.
I really value the words of what Mr. Frandsen said, that if the Prime Minister and the government ever had a majority government, it would be a scary thing.
Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Nunavut.
The 2010 Speech from the Throne highlights, in part, what our government is doing to advance women's full participation in society. It also showcases our government's progress in implementing Canada's economic action plan, a plan to stimulate, protect and renew the economy while making investments in long-term growth.
We are building the jobs and the industries of the future. Our government responded to the global economic downturn by introducing Canada's economic action plan, a plan that stimulates the economy, creates jobs for Canadians and protects those hit hardest. Canada is now emerging from the recession, powered by one of the strongest economies in the industrialized world. Women are more vital than ever to Canada's success.
Our efforts to promote investment in Canada and open markets are supported by low taxes, which help attract investment and ensure Canadian firms can compete globally. Small-sized and medium-sized businesses are the engines of the Canadian economy. They are responsible for most new job creation. Women start small businesses at twice the rate of men in Canada. Over the past two decades Canada has witnessed an increase of more than 200% in women's entrepreneurship.
By keeping taxes low, closing unfair tax loopholes, and opening Canada's doors to further venture capital and foreign investment, our government is creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs, both domestically and in key international markets.
By identifying and, if necessary, removing regulations and barriers that hinder growth, our government is providing ongoing support to small-sized and medium-sized businesses, a sector in which women-owned entrepreneurs are especially strong contributors.
The recent World Bank Group 2010 report entitled “Women, Business and the Law” analyses key differences in formal laws and institutions affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Out of 128 economies covered, Canada ranks as one of the top 20.
With respect to crime and justice, the Speech from the Throne highlighted the Government of Canada's renewed focus on greater protection for women and children victims of crime, a move that will benefit two of societies vulnerable groups. Statistics show that women are considerably more likely than men to be victims of violent crimes, such as sexual assaults and criminal harassment.
The high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women underscore the reality that aboriginal women and girls are among the most vulnerable members of Canadian society. They experience much higher rates and more serious forms of violence than their non-aboriginal counterparts, facts that the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Sisters in Spirit initiative has highlighted and examined.
The Speech from the Throne highlighted our government's commitment to take further action on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, which will result in concrete solutions to this pressing criminal justice priority.
I would like to read a few quotes. First, from the Vancouver Sun:
|| It’s a start, because five and 10 years ago, the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada never passed the lips of a single cabinet minister, that I’m aware of, over all those years.
That was from Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2000.
Also Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he was “elated” to finally see recognition of this important issue from Ottawa.
As Native Women's Association President Jeannette Corbiere Lavell said about the Speech from the Throne, “I’m pleased with this announcement. This is a positive step forward”.
Women want safe communities in which to raise their families. This includes being safe from recent threats, such as cybercrimes, to which children are especially vulnerable.
Women will welcome our government's commitment to take tough action to further protect children from Internet luring and to increase penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as the move to strengthen the sex offender registry, as indicated in the speech.
The Speech from the Throne also touched on our government's increased support to victims of crime and their families, including giving the families of murder victims access to special benefits under employment insurance. This will help the many women who are victims themselves or whose family includes a victim.
In making Canada the best place for families to live and grow, the Speech from the Throne provided an update on the universal child care benefit, a benefit that particularly encourages sole-support, single-parent families, many of which are headed by women.
The decline in poverty rates among these families is stunning. In 1998, 42.9% of families headed by lone-parent mothers lived below the after-tax low income cutoff. By 2007, the number had fallen to 23.6%.
The Government of Canada's commitment to further strengthen the universal child care benefit provides direct financial support to working families, many of which are headed by lone-parent, sole-support women, and retains their freedom to choose for themselves the best child care option.
We are standing up for those who helped build Canada. The Speech from the Throne indicated our government's initiative in taking action to improve the lives of veterans and Canadian military. As the majority of military spouses, women will benefit overwhelmingly from the change in unfair rules restricting access to benefits under employment insurance for military families who have paid into the system for years.
We are a country with an aboriginal heritage. Our government is acting to better protect the rights of aboriginal people, particularly women living on reserve, by taking steps to ensure the equitable distribution of matrimonial real property assets in the event of death, divorce or separation.
Passing matrimonial real property legislation on reserve will provide women and children with protections and provide them with the option to return or remain in their communities. As the Speech from the Throne indicated, the government will amend the Indian Act to comply with the court decision in order to address gender inequality under the Indian Act. This is an issue that has been ongoing for many years but will now be addressed in this session of Parliament.
Education is the key to success of individuals, their families and communities. Aboriginal women are attending school at higher rates than both non-aboriginal women and aboriginal men. Nevertheless, they continue to face barriers. The Speech from the Throne underscored our government's commitment to strengthening first nations education which benefits aboriginal women, their families and their communities.
Canada's history is enriched by its aboriginal heritage and yet, as we have explained so many times and are very well aware of, aboriginal women still face barriers to this full participation. As the Speech from the Throne indicated, our government will take steps to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner that is fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and our laws.
As well, foreign credential recognition is important to immigrant women, who tend to be more highly educated yet less likely to be employed than their Canadian-born counterparts. Our government is committed to continuing to work with the provinces to strengthen recognition of foreign credentials. Such recognition advances the full participation of immigrant women, helping them to put their training and knowledge to work for their families and for Canada.
Food, drug and consumer product safety is of course very important to women. They are the primary decision makers and consumers in ensuring their children's food, medicine and toys are safe. The Speech from the Throne indicated the Government of Canada will continue to be committed to strengthening Canada's food safety system and to reintroducing legislation that protects families from unsafe food, drug and consumer products. These are important measures for women who control the majority of family purchasing decisions.
In closing, the Speech from the Throne demonstrated that our government remains focused on the economy. Along with our budget which focuses on jobs and growth, the Speech from the Throne forms a key element of our government's overall plan for women, their families and their communities.
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House to speak about the Speech from the Throne. It sets forth our government's agenda to get Canadians back to work and bring Canada back to a balanced budget. It lays out a course for the future while acknowledging the need to stand up for those who helped build our country. It also sets out to improve and protect the health and safety of our children.
We believe that youth are the cornerstones of our communities. As such, one of our goals is to ensure that our children enjoy a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. Being fiscally responsible will help us better guarantee our continued prosperity and that our of children.
In order to help restore fiscal balance, our government will reduce stimulus spending once the Canadian economy has recovered, all the while protecting transfers that directly benefit Canadians.
On this note I am pleased to say that unlike past governments, we have maintained important health care support that Canadians need. As the speech makes clear, balancing the nation's books will not come by cutting transfer payments for health care. While seeking efficiencies and savings within our own operations, we remain wholly committed to increasing the Canada health transfer by 6% each year until 2014.
By keeping our promises and fulfilling this commitment to Canadians, we are providing much needed assistance for the benefit of our families and, ultimately, to protect and promote the health of Canadians.
As health minister I know full well that health issues are not restricted to the delivery of health care. They extend throughout our society and economy. Health matters when it comes to making sure consumer products are safe. It matters when we buy food for our families. It matters when we buy medicine. As we saw last week, it even matters when we buy hockey sticks for our kids.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians and their families is a priority of our government. We believe that Canadians deserve to benefit from stronger legislation to ensure that these products are safe. We believe that producers and manufacturers should be held accountable for the safety of their products, and we believe that our standards should be improved to align with those of our major trading partners.
Canadian parents need to have the confidence that their government will protect their children and will get tough with those who try to profit from dangerous goods. As such, we will be reintroducing legislation to protect Canadian families from unsafe consumer products. This legislation is long overdue and will replace the current 40-year-old legislation, and is something that all Canadians deserve.
This means gaining the ability to recall products, such as children's toys, that are found to be unsafe. We will be able to act more quickly whether or not the producers agree to do so. Improved consumer product legislation will also require suppliers to report serious injuries or illnesses resulting from the use of their projects. This legislation will ensure that Canadian families have the information to make informed choices and will hold those who produce, import and sell goods in Canada accountable for the safety of Canadians.
It is unfortunate that the Liberal senators delayed and watered down the consumer products safety bill that we introduced during the last Parliament. I urge members of the House who provided unanimous support during our last session to act accordingly in support of swift passage of the bill through Parliament.
With this commitment to action, the Speech from the Throne commits to a safer future for Canada's children.
While health issues extend beyond our hospitals onto our store shelves and into our homes, they also extend to our playgrounds. On this note, the Speech from the Throne commits to action aimed at preventing accidents that harm our children and youth. Last year our government took action to prevent childhood injury. This included changes to regulations, in order to make cribs, cradles, bassinets and corded window coverings safer for children.
We are committed to making communities and households safer places to raise a family. As a result, I look forward to working in partnership with provinces and territories and non-governmental organizations to develop a national strategy on childhood injury prevention. This commitment builds on years of important thought, work and initiatives. As both federal health minister and a mother, it is my honour and privilege to see this through.
I also commend the throne speech for recognizing the goal of realizing the potential of Canada's north for northerners and all Canadians.
As prosperity and good health go hand in hand, I am pleased to see that the vision in the speech is reflected in budget 2010. For example, I commend the temporary extension of the territorial health system sustainability initiative. This initiative enhances territorial health responsiveness to northerners' needs and improves community level access to services. As well, in my home territory this funding supports the Inuit public health strategy and education and training for more Inuit to enter the health professions.
We are also investing an additional $45 million to make healthy foods more affordable and more accessible to people living in northern and remote communities. This will broaden the ability of northerners to make healthier choices and therefore live longer and healthier lives.
I would like to highlight our commitment to aboriginal health. Effective disease prevention, health promotion and improved health outcomes for first nations and Inuit are critical. That is why our budget commits $285 million over the next two years for the continuation of aboriginal health programs.
In closing, as health minister, I commend the direction of the throne speech. It confirms important health commitments to Canadians. It reaffirms our commitment to modernizing our legislation for consumer, therapeutic and food product safety and it builds on our focus on Canada's north. It is for all of these reasons and more that I urge all of my fellow members to vote in favour.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to the Speech from the Throne today, a speech that received a resounding chorus of indifference across the country because it contained no substantive new announcements in it.
I am splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso and it is a great honour to do so.
Members need not just take it from me that there was nothing in the speech. I will quote the National Post, which usually supports the government. On March 4, Don Martin, who is obviously very supportive of Conservatives, stated:
|| Prime ministerial speech writers injected an entire thesaurus into 23 pages hyping the same direction they were taking when [the Prime Minister] unplugged Parliament last December. They filled the text with weasel words like "continuing" and "reintroducing" programs while "building upon" and "extending" various initiatives already in place.
Canadians were shocked when the Prime Minister shut down Parliament and said that he had to re-calibrate and come up with something exciting and new. However, there really was nothing. There was no difference. As the headline in the Montreal Gazette said, “[The Prime Minister] needed time off to produce this?” There was nothing substantial.
I will now use the time for my remarks to talk about some things that should have been in the Speech from the Throne. During the prorogation, we had 32 forums where we had excellent speakers and we did a lot of work developing excellent policy ideas for Canada. I made one on the northern forum. An entire afternoon on Parliament Hill was dedicated to northerners, at which there were excellent speakers.
A lot of themes were raised but four of the main themes were poverty, homelessness, climate change, which of course is affecting the north more than anywhere else, and aboriginal land claims implementation and the many problems happening there. All of these things are major problems in the north and need support but there were no new major initiatives in the throne speech to deal with any of those.
As was just mentioned in the debate, the closing of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has caused an outcry across the country. There are 133 projects and organizations that have been established over the years to help people heal from the tremendous tragic impacts on their lives. People are dreaming in Technicolor if they think the healing is finished. I have four projects in my riding and one project alone sees thousands of people. If we multiply that by 133 projects and organizations, one can imagine how many people still need healing.
As I mentioned briefly in my question, the Nunavut government passed a motion last week that asks for Canada to fully reinstate funding to the programs and services provided under the Aboriginal Healing Foundation which support Nunavummiut. The government's answer was that it had provided $60 million to Health Canada so that it could run healing programs. It was actually $33 million a year, so it is a bit more than that, but it is actually a decrease because last week in committee Health Canada officials said that the expenditure last year was $39 million. Not only is it closing all the healing organizations across Canada, but it is reducing the government's own services to provide healing, which is totally unacceptable.
What else is missing in the throne speech? It talks about “recognizing the realities of rural life”. The government certainly did not do that in relation to rural volunteer firefighters. The volunteer firefighters and fire chiefs of Yukon asked for a tax break. I passed that on to the Minister of Finance but nothing in that regard showed up in the budget or the throne speech.
I want to discuss food mail, which was just talked about. Northerners are getting very worried that their food supplies will be cut and the throne speech and budget were not much help. In fact, the minister said in committee that the program had been increased. I think the Minister of Health said that $45 million were added, which would bring it up to $60 million a year, but last year's expenditures were $69 million. When the population in the north is increasing and the price of food is increasing, we cannot decrease the food going to northerners. We will be following that up very carefully because nothing is more important to people's lives than basic food supplies.
The throne speech, fortunately or unfortunately, has a very small section on the north. The good point about that is, unlike the number of promises in the other throne speeches that were not kept, at least with so little the government cannot break as many promises. There was repetition of a few previous promises that have not been brought to fruition.
I do want to reference the quote where it says that the government will work with northern countries to settle boundary disputes. For a long time I have been pushing the government to work on the Beaufort Sea dispute but it has ignored that for years. When I brought it forward on a question on the order paper, it said that there was no dispute, that there was just a well-managed issue there. In fact, I am glad the government has dispensed with that imaginary situation, has acknowledged the dispute and is actually willing to work on it.
As I said before, the U.S.A. was putting oil leases on what we consider Canada. It was putting fish moratorium on our waters, which could affect the Inuvialuit land claim. It looks like the government will come to the table and I commend it for finally listening after all this time.
One of the themes recently in B.C. has been the great work of Liberal MPs in getting the convention centre and helping to get the Canada Line and, in fact, the Olympics. I commend the Liberal MPs for their work there. It changed the face of B.C. in recent years.
The throne speech talks a lot about the Olympics, et cetera, and the excellent government investment of millions of dollars for 200 and some athletes, but then the government almost ignores the over 1,000 Canadian athletes in the Arctic Winter Games. While small towns put more than half a million dollars in, there are millions of dollars required for this. The Government of Canada only put in $400,000 and denied repeated requests. The answers received from several departments were: “declined, do not meet the criteria”, or there was no response. In fact, Canada Customs, instead of helping the situation, added a bill of approximately $20,000 to the situation.
I encourage the government to walk the walk, talk the talk and provide more money for the Arctic Winter Games.
In regard to the public service, the original threats before the throne speech and budget, fortunately, did not materialize. I congratulate the government for saying that the public service is a critical national institution. However, I am worried about the freezes in operations and departments. It will have more of an effect on the north than anywhere else where there is more federal jurisdiction. We will be looking very closely at what types of cuts may be made. The last time the government did an expenditure review, it cut things like literacy, museum funding and women's groups. We cannot afford those types of cuts to the vulnerable this time round.
Something else that will affect the north is increasing seats in other parts of Canada. We only have three seats for the northern 40% of Canada, and the proportion of those will go down.
More foreign investments in telecommunication industries were referred to in the throne speech. I received nine letters opposed to that. Increasing foreign investment in uranium will have an effect on my riding, too, as we have a number of uranium claims.
The government could have made the homelessness partnering initiative permanent. Various government departments have a copy of the very important report on youth shelters, “Raising the Roof”, and yet there is no substantial action to deal with that.
With regard to volunteerism, the Prime Minister's award for volunteerism is good. At this time I would like to applaud Madeleine Gould, who passed away and whose service was this past weekend in Dawson City, for being volunteer of the year. However, I decry the government's cuts over the years in the millions of dollars to the volunteerism programs.
The throne speech says that hope is borne on the wings of prosperity. Why then is there no help for single mothers wanting child care? Why are there no new funds for pensioners? Why is there no hope for the depressing conditions on reserves or those on hospital waiting lists?
If indeed hope is borne on the wings of prosperity, this throne speech does not have hope.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of my riding of Cape Breton—Canso, I would like to congratulate and thank the people of British Columbia, especially those in Vancouver and Whistler and the army of volunteers who helped make the 2010 Olympics such a huge success.
The Olympic Games were something in which all Canadians felt a great deal of pride. Certainly, while many Canadians made the trek to Vancouver, most Canadians were glued to their televisions. We are very proud of our fellow citizens in B.C. and especially the people in Vancouver and Whistler who did an incredible job at hosting the world.
Our Olympic and Paralympic athletes continue to make the case for all that is good about investing in sport and taking part in sport. I had the opportunity to get out and see some of the Paralympic Games. The curling was an incredible event. I watched the sledge hockey event and many of the skiing events on TV. The competitors should be congratulated on their ability, commitment and athleticism. I am a member from Nova Scotia, the home province of Sidney Crosby, and I would be remiss not to make note of that as well. He certainly did the people of Nova Scotia and all of Canada very proud.
The Speech from the Throne is a document that contains 6,000 words and which took over 80 minutes for the Governor General to read. On 28 different occasions it referred to the fact that the government was “going to continue”. That document was prepared during prorogation. The Prime Minister said it was necessary to step back and shut down the business of the House in order to recalibrate, but in essence, after recalibration, there was nothing new for Canadians in the Speech from the Throne.
I benefited from it, however. I am a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and fans of the Maple Leafs have languished since 1967. I remember when my young fellow was about six years old he asked me why we were Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but now I can tell Mitch, who is now 22 years old, that we are just recalibrating. I have a new response for my son.
What really struck me was the lack of vision in the throne speech. Through its throne speech and budget in 2007, the government mentioned a commitment to the development of an Atlantic gateway strategy. People in Atlantic Canada, and certainly in Nova Scotia, were very excited about that. We thought that the government at least was saying the right things.
Since that 2007 budget there has been no mention of it. There was talk, but we have seen no action. We were really hoping that this recalibrated Speech from the Throne would have at least renewed some kind of interest and understanding or talked about the need for a strategy to open up the Atlantic gateway. We have seen none of that.
There are two projects close to my riding: the Melford project on the mainland and the Sydney harbour ports authority. Both groups are very capable and have been advocating these two projects for quite some time. However, it is imperative for a federal government to have an appreciation for the infrastructure that is necessary to make these projects go forward.
These projects would pay huge dividends to our communities far beyond the borders of my riding into other ridings. It would unlock many different opportunities within Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia. However, we have seen nothing in the throne speech and nothing in the budget to reaffirm any kind of interest in developing an Atlantic gateway strategy. That was very disappointing.
The other aspect that I thought was disappointing was the lack of vision, the lack of commitment, the lack of recognition within the realm of technology. In my riding there is a project going forward. Xstrata has invested a considerable amount of money in developing the Donkin mine site. In an ideal world we would all have solar panels and windmills, but in the real world coal is going to be part of the energy mix going forward for many years to come. As long as there is the United States, China and India and there is a thirst for energy within those countries, there is going to be a demand for coal.
I would think if we did our homework an informed federal government would be able to play a role in allowing the mining sector in this country to go forward and play a part in those economies. It would have been nice to see something in the Speech from the Throne in that regard.
Huge strides have been made on carbon capture and sequestration, but Canada has to be a leader within that realm. We have the best and the brightest and it is not the time to step back from that.
What we did see in the Speech from the Throne, and subsequently what we saw in the budget, was $25 million for green infrastructure. If we compare $25 million for green infrastructure to $200 million for an ad campaign to herald the great benefits of the economic action plan, it is minuscule in comparison. It is one thing to beat one's chest about $25 million when one is spending $200 million to say what a great job one is doing. It is similar to a house that is on fire and the fire truck is circling the block with its sirens going and the firemen saying, “Hey everybody, there's a fire over here”. Well, how about putting out the fire.
We have challenges with the economy. We have challenges with the environment. Let us take the $200 million from advertising and put it into our best and our brightest. That is how we become world leaders rather than sitting back and being participants.
There was a mention in the throne speech and in the budget about supporting our veterans. Even in the budget the Conservatives identified $1 million to help communities build monuments. That is an important initiative.
However, when young Canadians return from battle and from missions overseas, it is just not about their physical scars. It is also about the mental and emotional issues that our young soldiers have to deal with, post-traumatic stress disorder. There is nothing in the budget to help these brave young men and women.
My colleague from Yukon made note of some of the rural issues. We saw what took place last week with the CAP sites. The government talked about the commitment to rural Canadians. We saw the actions of the government when it stepped back from its commitment to CAP sites.
In my riding of Cape Breton—Canso, as in many communities, there is no access to daycare and no access to rural transit. These people must have access to high-speed broadband in close proximity to their community. Libraries are not within their communities.
This is a program that should be sustained. I would hope the government will continue to support the CAP site project.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North.
Like all Canadians, northerners were hoping for something new when they sat down to listen to the Speech from the Throne. After all, the government had shut down the distraction of democracy for an extra six weeks so it could come up with some new plans.
But like most Canadians, northerners were disappointed by how little new material was in the throne speech. There is nothing new about corporate giveaways. There is nothing new about employers and employees paying more for EI.
We heard again about the government's northern strategy to build a new north. Northerners have the ideas, but they need the authority and the resources.
We heard again about how a new high Arctic research centre was going to be studied. This even though scientists say they do not need more facilities but do need research funding and an overall plan for Arctic research. They do not need to wait five years for a study.
Northerners heard again how the government is going to defend the boundaries of our Arctic. Oh, if this were only the case.
While the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of National Defence are quick to rattle their sabres every time the Russians mention the Arctic, they have been strangely quiet when it comes to U.S. encroachment. The state of Alaska is preparing to take bids for oil and gas leases in our part of the Beaufort Sea.
But there is not a mention from the government, no press conference denouncing this theft of our resources, as the Minister of National Defence is so quick to do every time a Russian bomber takes off on a routine patrol. There has been no protest whatsoever from those great defenders of Arctic sovereignty. While we make tough with the Russians, the United States makes off with our territorial waters.
A cold war in the Arctic is not the only part of the government's northern policy that is stuck in the past. The entire relationship between the federal government and the territories reeks of colonialism.
Unlike the provinces, the territories derive their jurisdictional powers not from the Constitution but from an act of this House.
Unlike the provinces, there are no lieutenant-governors in the territories; rather the head of government is the commissioner, who represents not the Queen but the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Unlike the provinces, the vast riches of the north belong not to northerners but to the government of the mother country, Canada.
The throne speech mentions the transfer of powers and so on. Northerners have heard that line for 40 years, since the Carruthers commission, and are still waiting.
This throne speech laid out the opposite of a transfer of powers. The government laid out its plans to strip northerners of the little control they have over the development of their land. Using the code words “regulatory reform” and trying to link the issue with the excessive amount of time the joint review panel took to deal with the Mackenzie gas project, the government is trying to sell its plans for decreasing the few powers northerners have.
The environmental regulatory system in the Northwest Territories was created through the land claim process with the sole purpose of giving aboriginal governments and northerners some control and input into development on their lands. The government says that allowing local people control over their land is bad for business. Its corporate friends in Calgary, Houston, New York and London want a free hand to do as they wish in the north, and the government is determined to give it to them.
Northerners have seen what happens when big business is allowed to do as it wishes on our land. Big corporations make their money and northerners are stuck with the mess. I am speaking of messes like the arsenic contamination at Giant Mine, radioactive contamination from Echo Bay and Rayrock mines, and contamination left over in the Mackenzie delta following the 1970s oil and gas exploration. Money and resources are gone; pollution is left behind.
After being stuck with this mess too many times, northerners demanded control and input into the development of their home. Now the government, in a cynical fashion, paternalistically, wants to take it away. It will not even listen to the government of the Northwest Territories, which has come out in opposition to the changes the government wants to foist on northerners.
The Conservative government continues the paternalistic policies of the past. Even the amount of debt the territories can take on is not determined by northerners but by cabinet. Every so often, after much pleading and begging from the territorial governments, Ottawa eventually gets around to increasing the borrowing limit. Unfortunately, so much time has passed that these slim increases are of negligible value.
Borrowing limits are perfect examples of the paternalistic, colonial mentality the government and previous governments have had towards the north. When it comes to borrowing, the way municipalities are treated by provincial governments is less paternalistic than the way the territories are treated. In many cases, legislation for borrowing limits is flexible, based either on a percentage of revenue or a percentage of property values.
I want the government to hear this loud and clear. It is time to change how borrowing limits are determined for the territories, and if the government will not introduce the necessary amendments to the Northwest Territories Act, then I will. The result of these paternalistic borrowing controls is that the territories are not able to marshal the funds to support the developments northerners want. Our recent hydroelectric development is just the finest example of that.
Here is another example of how Ottawa does not care about what the people of the north want. Northerners have been calling for the completion of the Mackenzie Highway for decades. Ottawa says only it can build new highways, something that may change in the future, but right now we have more interest than ever in this, along with the pipeline. Building the road first would be a good idea.
What did the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announce the other day? He announced that his new CanNor agency will fund a further three-year pre-feasibility study on the Mackenzie Highway. Pre-feasibility study? Our government of the Northwest Territories, today, is investing in permanent bridges on the route. We need the environmental assessment done. We need to get this project shovel-ready. We do not need to study it. The government sees the north as its little colony, not grown up enough to have real control over its affairs, easy enough to put off with empty promises and pre-feasibility studies.
In a different vein, on December 14, 1960, the United Nations passed a declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and people, which declared:
|| All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
The UN declaration goes on:
|| Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.
The paternalistic attitude of the federal government toward the north is contrary to this 50-year-old declaration. It is time the federal government took concrete steps to end this colonial treatment of the north.
Northerners are the first to feel the effects of climate change. Northerners use the cold to our advantage. We have developed building techniques that utilize permafrost. The Diavik diamond mine only exists because permafrost technology secures the dike around the mine. In communities like Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik, all buildings are built on piles frozen into the permafrost.
The government's inaction on climate change threatens the mines, the communities and our way of life in the north. As the climate warms, the permafrost melts and the construction fails. The buildings fall over, the dike at the mine fails and roads will become impassable.
But there is another problem with the government and climate change. It would prefer to support the tar sands rather than support reasonable and prompt action on climate change. The government's support for the tar sands is another example of the government's true attitude toward the north.
In 2008, Environmental Defence found that 11 million litres of oil-polluted water leaches from the tar sands every day. The water of the Athabasca River flows through that part of Alberta and then makes it way north to the Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River. This polluted water flows right through my community of Fort Smith as well as every other community on the river system.
Northerners have seen how people living along the Athabasca in northern Alberta are getting sick with cancer, cancers many believe are directly linked to tar sands pollution. Expansion of the tar sands will mean even more pollution. The government does not care if northerners get sick as long as its friends in the oil industry get their money.
Not only was there little new in the speech for northerners, but there was little good. The speech shows the government's attitudes towards the north. It shows it does not listen to northerners, and it shows the government only sees the north for what it can take from it.